A comparative analysis of exposure to sexual activity, contraceptive use, conceptions, and pregnancy resolutions among single women aged 15–24 in eight Latin American countries is presented. Using data from Demographic and Health Surveys complete contraceptive and reproductive histories are constructed for single women aged 15–24 during the 5 year period preceding each survey. Pre-marital conception rates and overall and cause-specific life-table probabilities of contraceptive discontinuation are estimated. Pregnancy outcome and intention status of births are summarized. Trends in virginity, contraceptive protection, and conception rates for five sites are documented. In all eight countries, virginity accounts for over half of all single woman-years of exposure between age 15 and 24. The percentage of sexually active time protected by contraception is less than 20% in five countries, is about 30% in Peru and 50% in Brazil and Colombia. The contribution of condoms to contraceptive protection ranges from one-tenth to one-fifth. Pre-marital conception rates among sexually active single women range from 14.1 per 100 woman-years in Nicaragua to 25.8 in Bolivia. Most pre-marital conceptions ended in live birth, and births that are legitimized by marriage or cohabitation are more likely to be wanted. In five settings, virginity has fallen over time, especially in Northeast Brazil and Colombia, and uptake of condoms has increased faster than use of other methods. Because of pervasive declines in the protective effect of virginity, conception rates among single women in Latin America are rising. Contraceptive uptake, particularly of condoms, is increasing but not sufficiently to offset the decline in virginity.
Social Science and Medicine (2005) 60 (6) 1175-1185 [doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.07.002]